RWC 2023

Bok Mbonambi’s character praised by teammates as racial slur allegation continues to swirl

Bok Mbonambi’s character praised by teammates as racial slur allegation continues to swirl
Bongi Mbonambi looks on during a South Africa training session ahead of their Rugby World Cup France 2023 Final match against New Zealand at Stade des Fauvettes on 23 October 2023 in Domont, France. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

Springbok coach Daan Human and lock Jean Kleyn testified to Bongi Mbonambi’s good character as he faces an investigation into allegations that he directed a racial slur against England flank Tom Curry.

Away from the cameras and the mics, in gentle rain on the fields of Stade des Fauvettes in the small town of Domont, the Springboks got down to business. And right there in the thick of it, was hooker Bongi Mbonambi. 

Away from the thousands at Stade de France, the Springboks focused on the earnest business of preparing to meet their oldest and most respected rivals in the final of Rugby World Cup 2023. Facing the All Blacks requires full attention to detail, no distractions and complete commitment. 

“Training went well today in the rain; the big guys enjoyed it especially, and there was a lot of energy,” scrum coach Daan Human said.

The heavy clouds were not just a literal description of the day, but a metaphorical one too. Mbonambi faces a World Rugby investigation into his alleged racial slur directed at England flank Tom Curry during the Boks’ 16-15 semifinal win in Saint-Denis last Saturday.

“World Rugby takes all allegations of discriminatory behaviour extremely seriously,” it said in a statement.

“We can confirm that we are formally reviewing the allegation made by England’s Tom Curry in relation to the use of discriminatory language during the England versus South Africa Rugby World Cup 2023 semifinal on Saturday.

“World Rugby will not be making further comment until the conclusion of the process.” 

No denial

Mbonambi has not denied the claim. The Springboks and the South African Rugby Union (Saru) have launched their own investigation into the matter. Everyone is cooperating with everyone, it seems.

Yet, here we are with Mbonambi either guilty or innocent, according to social media outrage.

Curry says the Bok hooker called him a “white c**t”. Curry made the accusation to New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe during the match, won 16-15 by the Springboks, last weekend.

The Bok management and teammates call Mbonambi a “great character.” Is it one or the other? Can both things be true at once?

It’s complex, yet simple. The fact that no denial has been issued is worrying. 

But what is more concerning is that Curry made a claim that no one besides him appears to have seen or heard. An accusation of racism is a massive stain on anyone’s character. Could Curry have misheard or missed something in translation in the heat of battle?

What happened before the alleged incident? So many questions need answering and yet so many conclusions have been made on either side of the divide.

There is one essential fact though. World Rugby’s investigation had better come up with something soon. Mbonambi’s character has been smeared in the week of the biggest game in rugby. And until such time as there is evidence to suggest otherwise, he continues to suffer in the court of public opinion.

Teammate Kleyn and coach Human would not be drawn on details of the accusations when they faced the media at Salle Jeanne d’Arc a few kilometres up the road in the town of Presles.

“I have not been part of any discussions about this,” Human said of the controversy. “But Bongi’s a calm guy actually, a calm guy … no, no, it’s really not a big thing. I don’t want to actually go into it because we’ve got a World Cup final in six days’ time.

“He’s a great character. He’s down to earth, a very humble guy. He’s definitely a guy I would love to have in my team, in our team. That’s it, all I can say about him is he’s a great guy.

“Bongi has been part of this group for over six years, he started in the last World Cup and he started in the semifinal, so he is very important, like all the other players in our group.”

Kleyn also came out in support of Mbonambi.

“Bongi is a great guy and I’ve known him since my days at the Stormers, which is about nine years ago,” Kleyn said. “He’s a fantastic guy, a good individual and, to be honest, I’m not going to comment on that. He’s a fantastic bloke.”

All Blacks notice

The All Blacks were quick to note the issue and couldn’t resist floating the potential problems for the Boks if Mbonambi were to be suspended.

That is highly unlikely though, because even if World Rugby’s investigation does find grounds for a disciplinary hearing, it will take some time to convene and shouldn’t happen until after the final.

Mbonambi remains the only full-time hooker in the squad.

“I learnt about it [the allegation against Mbonambi] this morning. It is something World Rugby will deal with,” All Blacks defence coach Scott McLeod said. 

“If anything came of it, it would be a massive dent for them. He is a leader of their team. When Siya [Kolisi, the Springbok captain] goes off, he becomes the captain so I imagine it would impact them.”

If World Rugby finds grounds to take disciplinary action against Mbonambi he could be suspended under law 9.12 which states a player must not verbally abuse anyone. World Rugby regulations prohibit abuse based on, but not limited to “religion, colour, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation”.

There is precedent for this type of offence. 

In 2016, England prop Joe Marler (who played against the Boks on Saturday) was given a two-game ban and fined £20,000 for calling Wales prop Samson Lee “Gypsy boy”. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Focus on the game Bongi – don’t be sidetracked by yawn. Its a boring topic and people need to get get over themselves generally. Maybe just punch him in the face next time rather, it will likely cause less woke clamour (as everyone knows indiscriminate violence – and graphic sex – are 100% acceptable, just watch TV)

  • Steve Davidson says:

    So he wouldn’t get any penalty until after the final anyway? Well that’s a start anyway. And if found innocent, what penalty would RedCard Curry get for making false accusations? Works both ways, you know. So, let’s hou die blink kant bo. Oh, right…

  • Daniel Cohen says:

    Has world rugby now become a game for hooligans played by gentlemen (hoary old quote) policed by a bunch of over-sensitive thought police. And so it has become open season. Any player on the field can accuse any opposing player of making an inappropriate remark aimed at the accuser, without any corroboration and, hey presto, all hell is let loose. Ridiculous. As that other hoary old saying goes. C’mon Curry, play the game and not the man.

  • No Thanks says:

    All the (supportive) commentary from everyone apart from Bongi is weird, so I’m guessing it’s true but he doesn’t want to discuss it before the finals to avoid denting the team spirit..

  • Roger Verite says:

    My opinion is that is was a heated game and each team was looking for an advantage. Tom Curry perhaps felt he could ‘game’ the ref by inferring that he was the target of a alledged racial slur – when, in all likelihood, it was team communications in afrikaans.

    A probable misunderstanding on both sides. Although, Bongi’s refusal to shake hands post match might be indicitative that he did not appreciate that on field questioning of his character. (Or he really doesn’t like Curry, which I can understand too).

    • Bonzo Gibbon says:

      To be fair, Curry did not say any more and did offer to shake Bongi’s hand at the end. And England did not complain in the 48 hours after the match. Curry does not seem like the kind of guy to make something like this up, or “game” the referee. The most obvious explanation is that he misinterpreted some Afrikaans. Given that there was no citing investigation by the match officials, maybe World Rugby should have just left it. If there was video/audio evidence, it would have been out there by now, so the quicker World Rugby exonerates him the better.

  • jamie.meyer says:

    This is just ridiculous. He was clearly speaking Afrikaans and it’s audible that he said “Wyd kant”. England’s saltiness is as unedifying as it is embarrassing!

  • Alpha Sithole says:

    Sound bite on Cape Talk sounded like “wit is onkant”. Let’s move on and focus on the final.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    I have two comments on this matter. 1. Bongi is a great player, much admired and rightly so. There is a lot of emotion around this issue – we vehemently and correctly defend our own. However, where there is smoke, there is fire and we mustn’t just dismiss it outright. IF he did say something untoward, perhaps an apology would have been in order and it would all be over. We all say things on the spur of the moment which might be construed as offensive and regrettable, but saying that the Poms just whine or it is a man’s game is nonsense. 2. Imagine if it was the other way round!!! The shrieks and cries from the anc, eff, the usual vacuous gallery etc etc. would be through the roof! Racism works both ways and is not just one way. When it is white on black, the usual hysterical mob will use the flimsiest of excuses to vilify, harangue, pursue etc. the “guilty” party. Let’s be fair and keep perspective – that is my point!

  • Betsy Kuhn says:

    Go BOKS…don’t let this make you lose focus on what you have to do…GO BOKS

  • Betsy Kuhn says:

    Curry should be banned from rugby…full stop

  • jason du toit says:

    on the recording it sounds like “witte kant” to me.

    a tweet of the raw footage:
    google “capetalk Mzansi rallies behind Springbok Bongi Mbonambi”

    a discussion with cleaned up audio:
    google “capetalk Forensic audio analysis ‘proves’ what Bongi Mbonambi might’ve said”

  • Fred S says:

    Why doesn’t he and the team just deny it? It seems obvious that he shouted wyd/wit kant and wasn’t even looking at Curry.

  • PJ B says:

    Hey Curry, in Afrikaans you are called Kerrie. please do not kerrie on like a baby.

  • Grumpy Old Man says:

    World Rugby should sanction Bongi & sentence him to 3 hours Afrikaans pronunciation lessons!
    There has to be a Laugh it Off T Shirt hours away from hitting the streets!
    Can anyone think of a Caption?

  • Pagani Paganini says:

    I notice you have adopted English media narrative. What purpose would have “denial” by Bongi served especially after World Rugby has already issued a statement that they are investigating the matter? NOTHING. The matter was always going to be investigated as World Rugby is obligated. Already an audio, through slightly inaudible, emerged that tells a different story from Mr. Curry (‘white c…t” to Mr. Curry “wyt kant” from Bongi to his players which incidentally is how the England attached at that time) but all these should be left to investigators to make conclusion without being influenced by media hype including social media. It is correct for Rugby SA to put a lit on the matter and allow investigations to continue without any external influenced and let players focus on their preparations.

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